Being a famous boy wizard can be tough, you’ve got school assignments, unsupportive family members, encroaching puberty… oh and an evil Dark Lord, bent on killing you. Luckily, you also have some good friends to help you out of almost any situation.
In Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, players team up to take on he-who-must-not-be-named and a bunch of his minions. There are four different characters to choose from, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville. Each one has their own starting deck of cards.
These young Gryffindor students will have to withstand an assault on their school from a number of increasingly difficult Death Eaters. They will be trying to stun our heroes and take over various Locations on the school grounds. Harry and his friends have to defeat all of the Villains, before they’re able to take over the Locations to win and complete their year.
Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deckbuilding game. Players have a deck of Hogwarts cards that can earn Influence (the currency of the game) and Attack (the…well, the attack of the game). They can also provide players with special abilities.
The game starts with one Villain (or more) launching an assault on the school. Each Villain has an ability that will hamper the students in some way. It may be an attack, or something that stops them from drawing cards, or even something that heals themselves and other Villains. Each round of the game, players will first have to flip a Dark Arts card. They all have some nasty ability, like attacks on the students or adding control markers on the current Location for the Villains. Then they’ll check the current Villain(s) ability to see if they’re affected. Finally they’ll get to play their Hogwarts cards, gaining Influence, Attacks and special abilities. Attacks can be hurled at any Villain, and Influence can buy new Hogwarts cards, but at the end of a turn, any unused resources are returned to the pool.
Hogwarts cards are pretty awesome. They’re made up of different Items (Nimbus 2001, Butterbeer, the Golden Snitch, etc.), Allies (Ginny Weasley, Sirius Black, Oliver Wood, etc.), and Spells (Alohomora, Incendio, Wingardium Leviosa, etc). I love how they’ve tackled the Spells. Each one is represented by its own symbol, mimicking the movement of a wand necessary to pull it off. The effect is quite clever.
The players have their own personal board that tracks their character’s health. It’s possible to lose all your hearts and become stunned. In that case you discard half your cards in hand, lose any Influence or Attacks you’ve earned that turn, and add a Control Marker to the Location. You still get to play our your turn, and at the end of it you’re returned to full health.
Play will progress until all of the Villains have been defeated or all the Locations have fallen to the control of the Death Eaters.
One of the most satisfying parts of this game is that it’s broken up into seven different books. As you complete each game you can progress to the next books, opening the box (almost Legacy-style) and seeing how the next chapter will unfold. This usually includes adding new Villains, Locations, Dark Arts, and Hogwarts cards. However, it can also mean changes to the rules and even the addition of new mechanics. In some of the later boxes new character cards come out with the heroes older selves. These new cards grant starting abilities to the characters. They’re going to need it too, because the game gets more and more difficult as it goes along.
So, who is Hogwarts Battle for? I’m going to be honest, it’s not a super difficult game in the rounds that I’ve played. We haven’t lost yet. That’s no inherently a bad thing, just something to note. The simplicity of the game, doesn’t distract from how enjoyable it is. I had a really fun time acquiring Spells, Items, and Allies, and taking on some of the foes from the beloved series. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a pretty big HP fan, but even non-fans will find things to enjoy in this game. I haven’t yet played through all the different books, but I can say that I’m really excited to see what other additions and changes lie in store. There’s a part of me that wants to refer to Hogwarts Battle as ‘baby’s first deckbuilder,’ but I really don’t think that does it justice, especially since I haven’t played it at its most difficult level. What I will say, is that it’s an excellent introductory deckbuilding game for two major reasons: the rules are accessible, and you play cooperatively. If you play with a hardcore group, this might not be the title for you, but if you get as much fun from the experience of play and theme of a game, I highly recommend Hogwarts Battle. It was a really nice surprise. 50 points for USAopoly.